Dr. Caroline Adombi, Côte d’Ivoire, is among the few women doing molecular biology in Côte d’Ivoire


Dr. Adombi, from Côte d’Ivoire, holds a PhD by the Université Félix Houphouet-Boigny, Abidjan-Cocody, Côte d’Ivoire. She is currently an assistant professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and also a researcher at the Institut de Gestion Agropastorale (IGA) de l’Université Peleforeo GONCOULIBALY, Korhogo. 

She is one of the beneficiaries of the latest edition of the Ellas Investigan programme, thanks to which she is carrying out her research stay at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) in Barcelona.

As for her research, she is focused on studying the variability of SARS-CoV-2 in COVID-19 patients to get more knowledge about the pathogens that threat animals and humans, adding value to the current efforts deployed to fight pathogens in Côte d’Ivoire.

She aspires to give more autonomy to her country that is still highly dependent on European and American resources.

What encouraged you to pursue a scientific career? What made you incline towards your speciality?

My father was an electromechanical engineer. And he was requested in case of power cut and he always solved the problem. He was my model and I always wanted to be like him. And I was especially fascinated by the engineering girls. I grew up in this scientific environment which therefore influenced my choice to pursue a scientific career. And I chose Biochemistry because it was an unknown and very selective discipline in Côte d’Ivoire. Later, after my Advanced Diploma Degree in Biotechnology and Crop Production,

I got a proposal from the Head of the Virology Department of Côte d’Ivoire Veterinary Laboratory to work on his project on Molecular Biology as a PhD student. I immediately accepted because it is a cutting-edge speciality that is not accessible in Côte d’Ivoire because of expensive costs of equipment and reagents. And also because it is a transversal tool that can be applied in plants, animals, humans and environment. It was a great opportunity for me to do something new and different from my other friends at the university.

Have you felt supported throughout your career?

I have not felt supported since I went back to Côte d’Ivoire in 2015 to work as a Teacher and Researcher at the university. I had no longer access to the Veterinary Laboratory. Without a projet and funding, it is difficult for me to integrate a research team in another laboratory. In Côte d’Ivoire, the few Molecular Biology Laboratories often lack appropriate equipment and reagents.

Do you feel that being a woman has made it harder for you? In what way?

Being a woman has not made it harder for me. On the contrary, I am proud to be among the few women who doing Molecular Biology in Côte d’Ivoire. It’s rather my specialty that limits me because my work requires Hitech equipment, well skilled personnel, expensive reagents.

How do you think your work can help your research area?

My work will help to identify and better characterize many known and unknown circulating infectious pathogens, in particular emergent and re-emergent pathogens threatening human/animal health by partial gene or/and complete genome sequencing for a deeper understanding of their epidemiology. It will also help to describe their virulence or resistance with a view to broader epidemiological surveillance. It will be an important and effective added value to efforts deployed by public authorities in Côte d’Ivoire for the control of emergent human/animal diseases and detailed pathogen analysis will be faster than if the samples had been sent to a laboratory abroad.

Dra Caroline Adombi

What do you expect from your stay in Vall d’Hebron Institut de Recerca (VHIR)?

I expect to build a fruitful collaboration between my institution and VHIR to carry out research work in order to better understand the molecular epidemiology of any pathogen and to publish the results. This collaboration will facilitate the transfer of technologies in the field of infectious diseases that may be of interest to my Institution. This collaboration will also facilitate the shipment of genomic reagents for my home lab work and also for genomic data analysis and sequencing services.

Have you had models of women scientists who have inspired or supported you?

To be honest, the first persons who inspired me as a scientist were two men, Professors Adom Niamké and Abdourahamane Sangaré who communicated to me the passion for Molecular Biology during my Master in Biochemistry. Then, I was taught during my Advanced Diploma Degree in Biotechnology and Crop Production by Prof. Mireille Dosso, a medical doctor, the first Ivorian female microbiologist and virologist, Director of the Institut Pasteur of Côte d’Ivoire and 2011 Laureate of the African Union and ECOWAS Women Scientists.
She inspired me by her determination and her modesty. But they are 3 scientists men who supported me during my PhD work and continue to do so during my career ; they are my mentors: Professors Djaman Allico Joseph and Couacy-Hymann Emmanuel who are also academics and Dr Adama Diallo from CIRAD.

What would be your advice to a girl who wants to pursue a career in STEM and more specifically in your speciality?

Nowadays, there are many programs and funds to help women in STEM and encourage gender promotion. I strongly encourage girls to apply for all these programs and follow their passion. I recommend to girls who want to pursue a career as a researcher in Molecular Biology to trust themselves, constantly fight for their dream and do not compromise. I also want them to be constantly curious, to cultivate and seek excellence.

How do you see the current coronavirus situation in general and especially in Africa and in your country?

The general situation seems less apocalyptic with the first vaccinations, but the health crisis is not yet under control because I think that the virus has not yet adapted in humans. In Ivory Coast as in all African countries, the situation is still worrying, between uncertainty due to vaccines and mistrust and carelessness of the population.

What are your forecasts?

I hope to conduct impactful research on hepatitis E, an unknown zoonotic disease in Côte d’Ivoire. Upon my return, I will finalize my research project on hepatitis E, set up my research team and seek funding and regional and international collaborations. At the academic level, I plan to supervise at least 6 master’s students for the next 2 years. I also plan to write and publish research papers in Q1 and Q2 international journals.

Do you think the scientific community is being successful in the development of new vaccines? Has it been a challenge for them?

The scientific community has succeeded in developing recombinant vaccines in human health given the urgency of the moment; this type of vaccine already exists in animal health. The major challenge lies in the validation of these recombinant vaccines because of the high cost of clinical trials and the choice of the delivery system for these vaccines; the urgency of the moment did not allow these two aspects to be well identified before their massive use.

Do you think that the different vaccines that exist are the solution?

The different vaccines that exist are not the best, but they are the solution of the moment to avoid severe forms of the disease requiring intensive care.

Do you think there will be a before and after marked as a result of the pandemic?

This pandemic has shown the vulnerability and limitations of man in general in all aspects and shows how human being is not master of the world and that there is a supreme being who holds the Universe in his hand. But unfortunately, I don’t believe there will be a before and after marked as a result of the pandemic. Equitable access to vaccines is a good example. I do not believe that this pandemic will change the heart of human being in his thirsty quest for power and the establishment of a new world order.

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I appreciate the opportunity given to me to be part of the program Science by women. All my thanks and gratitude to the President María Teresa Fernández de la Vega for her feminist commitment and her loving heart in helping African women through her foundation. May God protect her and her family, her collaborators, and continue to bless her beyond her hopes.

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